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Israeli Warplanes Pound Gaza in Bid to Free Kidnapped Soldier

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Robert Berger

Israel is continuing a punishing offensive in the Gaza Strip aimed at winning the release of a kidnapped soldier. But, Israel is also leaving the door open to diplomacy.

Israeli warplanes pounded more than 30 targets across Gaza, including the Interior Ministry. Israel is targeting the Palestinian government led by the Islamic militant group Hamas, saying it was directly involved in the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on Sunday. Hamas gunmen took part in the daring raid on an Israeli army base near Gaza in which 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized.

In a further punitive measure, Israel revoked the Jerusalem residency of four senior Hamas officials, including a Cabinet minister. The unprecedented step takes away their right to live in Jerusalem and travel freely in Israel.

"These people are members of a terrorist organization. They're not just members, they're leadership in a terrorist organization," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

On Thursday, Israel arrested more than 60 Hamas officials, including eight Cabinet ministers.

At the same time, Israel has postponed a major ground offensive in Gaza to give Egyptian and Palestinian diplomats a chance to win the release of the soldier.

"And I'd say today, even with the military operation ongoing, that if Shalit is released we will immediately de-escalate. That will create a positive momentum that will help us get back from the edge of the cliff," said Regev.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has urged Hamas to free the soldier immediately and avoid further destruction in Gaza.

"We have been exerting maximum effort in order to locate his whereabouts and to bring him out alive. That's what we want," said Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat.

Israel has rejected the kidnappers' demand to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the captive soldier.

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